Jagr makes de­but as Flames de­feat Kings

Calgary Sun - - NEWS - kod­land@post­media.com @Kris­ten_Od­land

LOS ANGELES — While half of the Cal­gary Flames took shots on Ed­die Lack, the other half worked on small-area drills, pass­ing be­tween each other on Tues­day at the L.A. Kings’ prac­tice fa­cil­ity in El Se­gundo.

And fully con­tent on do­ing his own thing — 24 sea­sons in the National Hockey League will do that to you — Jaromir Jagr skated be­tween the blue­line and cen­tre line.

Back and forth with the puck. Stops and starts. Over and over. Then, the 45-year-old right winger had an ex­tended chat with Glen Gu­lutzan.

“Lots of chats,” said the Flames head coach with a smile. “And you know what? You learn ev­ery time you chat with him. When you have a guy that’s played that long and that many games, he knows where he’s at.”

Where he was at, on Wednesday, was game ready.

At least in his own mind, and that’s ex­actly what Gu­lutzan and Jagr were dis­cussing Tues­day.

“We just talked about his min­utes,” Gu­lutzan ex­plained, re­gard­ing the tete-a-tete. “Just from see­ing him be­fore, I said, ’To me, you look bet­ter and bet­ter each day.’“Re­mem­ber, Jagr has a high level.

“His hands, his tim­ing ... all of that looked bet­ter to me. He felt that, too. Our chat was about min­utes, and the next pro­gres­sion for him is get­ting some game time.”

Of course, that hap­pened Wednesday night in downtown L.A. at the Sta­ples Cen­ter when he made his Flames de­but and played first-reg­u­lar sea­son game with a Cana­dian-based National Hockey League team.

It was an ex­cit­ing night for ev­ery­one in Cal­gary — and in the Flames dress­ing room, for that mat­ter.

Since his ar­rival from the Czech Repub­lic last week, Jagr has been skat­ing dili­gently both on his own (some­times well

after prac­tice has ended) and with the Flames’ third line of Kris Ver­steeg and Sam Ben­nett.

He’s been a teacher, too, in the short time he’s been with the club. Each skate, he’s seen hav­ing a po­si­tional chat with his team­mates.

“He talks to you and lets you know,” Ver­steeg said. “That’s what it’s going to take. He hasn’t played in a long time, and to un­der­stand where you are po­si­tion­ally and strengths as quickly as pos­si­ble, that’s big.

“I’m ex­cited to see him in a cou­ple of weeks when he re­ally be­comes com­fort­able . . . but, for now, he still looks great.”

Gu­lutzan was plan­ning on man­ag­ing the fu­ture Hockey Hall-of-Famer’s ice-time Wednesday night, some­thing that he’s no stranger to hav­ing coached Jagr briefly with the Dal­las Stars.

Jagr, speak­ing qui­etly on Wednesday in the cor­ner of the visitors’ dress­ing room at the Sta­ples Cen­ter next to stall-mate and fel­low Czech Michael Fro­lik, was in­tent on down­play­ing the whole or­deal.

“Of course it’s been a long time since I’ve played my last game,” said Jagr. “It’s going to be dif­fer­ent. I care a lot, so I’m going to play the best I can play. It’s not going to be very good. But hope­fully, (after play­ing) some games, it’ll be bet­ter.”

The build-up, at least to him skat­ing in a Flames jer­sey for real, has been drawnout. Each day, Gu­lutzan in­di­cated there was a “plan” in place for Jagr’s de­but.

All along, Gu­lutzan said the player him­self would dic­tate when he was ready.

And de­spite not play­ing a mean­ing­ful game since April 9 in Washington while with the Florida Panthers, ex­pec­ta­tions were high.

“Al­ways the high­est,” Jagr said, of his own per­sonal stan­dard. “It might be dif­fer­ent, but I al­ways want to per­form at a high level ...

“But it’s not about me. It’s about the team and my team­mates. I don’t want to be there just to be there. I want to make them bet­ter.”

That’s ex­actly why Flames gen­eral man­ager Brad Tre­liv­ing brought in the old­est ac­tive player in the NHL — be­cause he be­lieves Jagr will make them bet­ter.

The fifth-over­all selec­tion of the 1990 NHL En­try Draft fin­ished fourth in team scor­ing last year with the Panthers, net­ting 16 goals and 30 as­sists in 82 games. Those were, of course, added to his stag­ger­ing ca­reer stat-line of 765 goals and 1,149 as­sists.

The only play­ers on the Flames ros­ter who scored more points than Jagr’s 46 in 2016-17 were four mem­bers of the team’s top two for­ward lines and one de­fence­man — Matthew Tkachuk (48), Dougie Hamil­ton (50), Mikael Back­lund (53), Sean Mon­a­han (58) and Johnny Gau­dreau (61).

Jagr is sec­ond on the NHL’s all-time scor­ing list be­hind Wayne Gret­zky with 1,914 points and is chas­ing Gordie Howe (1,767) for all-time games played.

After Wednesday’s game, he’s played 1,712 and needs just 56 more to pass Howe’s record.

Not bad for a guy who’ll turn 46 on Feb. 15.

“He hasn’t had a train­ing camp — he hasn’t been in a game at­mos­phere in prob­a­bly five or six months now or what­ever it’s been,” pointed out Ver­steeg. “Like he said, he’s going to take time get­ting used to ev­ery­one and get­ting used to the play­ers. I mean ... prac­tices only do so much. It’ll be more about game sit­u­a­tions, and I think as the games keep going and pro­gress­ing, you’re going to see it get a lot bet­ter as it goes.”

GaviN yOuNg/pOst­mediA

Kris­ten OD­LAND

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